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This Aussie startup with a foothold in Arlington is using publicly available data to fight online extremism

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that highlights Arlington-based startups, founders, and local tech news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn. 

An Australian company with its American headquarters in Arlington says it is part of the fight against online radicalization.

Fivecast is a software company specializing in mining intelligence from publicly available data, which is also known as open-source intelligence.

The company, with its U.S. headquarters in Courthouse at 2311 Wilson Blvd, recently raised $20 million that it will use to further develop its products, hire some 50 employees, expand into new markets and meet a surge in demand for its services in the U.S.

That demand, the company says, is driven by a need among law enforcement agencies for better intelligence to counteract radicalization happening on the internet.

“Within the U.S., there are specific areas of high demand for Fivecast solutions: U.S. law enforcement are looking to address the growing challenge of violent extremism and online radicalization exacerbated by the continuing divisive U.S. political environment,” Marketing Director Monica Brink told ARLnow.

In recent years, scholars, media outlets and government agencies have increased their focus on how online forums and communities expose young men to extremist ideologies and radicalize them to these causes.

The increased attention comes as extremist-related murders actually have been trending down — from highs in 2015 to 2019 — but the number of murders committed by far-right extremists has gone up, according to a report by Anti-Defamation League. (The mall shooter in Allen, Texas, for instance, is said to have had neo-Nazi sympathies.)

A connection between social communication platform Discord and far-right extremism, in particular, is also firming up. Most recently, the government seemed blindsided by the fact that a young man could — and did — leak classified documents in a Discord channel where he and other young users talked about guns and posted offensive memes.

Fivecast says understanding these online havens for extremist thought and getting ahead of threats is hard and growing more difficult.

“An increasingly complex and growing threat landscape combined with the sheer volume of data available online make it extremely difficult for intelligence teams across both the public and private sector to collect, filter and analyze data in a timely way,” Brink said.

That is where its product comes in.

Fivecast runs a platform that collects and analyzes publicly available information for tasks such as identifying violent extremism and foreign influence operations as well as countering terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime, she said.

Private companies and public agencies turn to the company’s platform for help surmounting growing obstacles to protecting communities and businesses from threats.

Fivecast co-founders (left to right) David Blockow, Ross Buglak, Brenton Cooper and Duane Rivett (courtesy photo)

Fivecast says there is an ongoing need “for insider threat detection, large-scale security vetting and protective security” across U.S. government operations — and this is one reason it settled in Arlington.

“Fivecast chose Arlington due to the high demand for our open-source intelligence technology within the U.S. government sector as well as the talent available within the intelligence industry in this region,” Brink said.

“Arlington is well suited to our overall company mission of enabling a safer world,” she continued. “The business environment here is filled with government agencies who have a similar mission and understand the value of applying the latest AI-enabled risk analytics technology to address important intelligence challenges and keep communities safe.”

Outside of the U.S., Fivecast operates in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Together, these five countries comprise what’s known as “Five Eyes,” an alliance among the countries with roots in intelligence-sharing activities during World War II and the Cold War.

The company says it intends to use its new funding to grow its presence and staffing in Australia, the U.S. and the UK. It also intends to get into new markets, including corporate security and financial intelligence.

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